Leather 101: Everything You Need to Know to Choose a Great Traveler’s Notebook


Hey everyone! It’s Toni Gatlin from RedPenTravelers.com. Today I want to talk with you and show you
several different kinds of leather so you will have good information and be able
to make an educated decision when you are buying a traveler’s notebook. Different makers will have different suppliers
and different techniques so some things are going to vary from maker
to maker, but there are some consistent leather terms
and kinds of leather that you’ll want to know about so that you
will have the correct expectations for the product that you’re ordering
and nobody gets surprised down the road when something’s not
what I thought it would be. Let’s start with just the different kinds of leather. The leather that I use is called vegetable
tanned. It’s just called that because they use plant
extracts rather than synthetic chemicals or oil products, things
like that, to tan the leather. It’s treated with things that are extracted
from trees and leaves, that sort of thing, and they take that raw
cowhide and finish it with the plant extracts. The leather that I use is from Europe so it’s
typically very smooth and clean, it’s a really high
quality leather. Sometimes I’ll go to the leather store and
I’ll see some of the rougher pieces of leather that have
a lot of scars or even insect bites or brands, things like
that, but typically my European leather is super
high quality and does not have a lot of range marks. It gives me a really neutral surface that’s
very smooth and allows me to create designs on the cover
and not have a lot of variation in terms of texture and
scarring. They’re going to be really consistent. There are always going to be some natural
variations, but they’re minimized when you start with
a really consistent piece of leather like this. There is something that I want everybody to
be aware of. I am sure there is some law of physics or
some scientific term that will explain this phenomenon, but let
me demonstrate what I’m talking about. I’ve got a piece of paper I’ve just pulled
right out of my printer. It is just a plain piece of white paper. It’s soft and floppy because it’s big and
it’s very thin. It has a lot of what I call “flop.” It has flop. If I take it and make it smaller, just cut it down to sort of approximating business card size. That flop has disappeared. It’s still flexible, but it doesn’t just fold
right over on itself the way a big thin piece would. Imagine if this was even thicker, say this
was a piece of card stock or cardboard, even more so it would
be very stiff. The thicker it is, and the smaller it is,
that’s going to affect how floppy any material is. Think about a piece of metal, anything like
that, a long piece of wood. The longer it is, and the skinnier it is,
the bendier, if that makes sense. Like I said, I’m sure there’s some law of
physics to explain this, but I just want everyone to be aware of that
when you’re choosing the size of notebook that you want to use. Sometimes I’ll hear from people who will say, Oh my notebook is a little stiffer than I thought it would
be. Sometimes that just has to do with the size
of the notebook. This is a Tiny notebook, or it will be! It’s going to end up being a little bigger
than business cards. It’s the smallest size that I make. This is going to be an A5 notebook. See how much flop that has? There’s so much more room for it to wiggle. There’s physically room for it to move around
in a way that’s just not… there’s just not space
for it to move as well. It’s a function of the size and the thickness. Keep that in mind. If you have the option to choose thickness,
if you’re choosing a small notebook, you might want to go
with a thinner leather. It might give you more wiggle room there. Or if you’re going with a bigger notebook,
you may want to choose the thicker leather so that it holds
up well and that larger size gives you the wiggle
room that you need. Please be aware of that, that the sizing will
definitely affect the softness and that degree of wiggle
and flop that you could experience there. That’s going to be true for all kinds of leather. Aside from the vegetable tanned leathers,
there’s what we call oil tanned. That’s really a misnomer; it’s not tanned
with oil, but it is treated with oil-based treatments
after it’s been tanned at the tannery. These are done in massive batches so you have
a great deal of color consistency. When they’re doing a hundred hides of leather
all in the same batch, they’re all going to come out
the same color. That’s really good if you want a super consistent
color. Say you’re a maker who buys a hundred hides at a time, you want them all to be the same color. One thing about the oil tanned is that you
get this sort of matte finish and it does get scratched a little
bit. You can leave marks on it, and those are usually
considered desirable. As long as you’re not gouging in the leather,
these small scratches are usually a good thing. Because it is drum dyed, as I was describing
in giant batches, the color permeates all the way through. Whereas the leather that I use starts out
a buff color like this and then is dyed on the surface….
here’s a piece of a pink notebook that I’ve cut apart as an
experiment piece– If I cut through, you can see here that inside
is still that buff leather color. The outside’s pink, because that’s
where I’ve dyed it, but inside if we cut through you’ll see
the raw leather. That means that it’s not permeated
all the way through, but I can scratch it here and it does
permeate through enough that even with deliberate scratches
I’ve caused some scarring here for sure, but it’s still pink. I’d have to really gouge super hard to get
down to the buff leather underneath. That’s just something to be aware of, a little
bit of trivia. Underneath, it’s the original buff leather
color if you’re going with the vegetable tanned option,
because the dye is sitting on the surface rather that
having been drum dyed all the way through. Now some limitations that go along with oil
tanned leather is that you cannot change the color after
the fact. I can never take this and dye it pink. It’s just not going to work, chemically and
just optically, the pink dye is never going to overtake this
black dye. This is going to be black forever and ever
and ever. It’s a permanent dye. That’s something to think of, when they’re
doing these big batches, they’re doing them typically
in classic colors. Black, brown, tan. They’re not usually going to do a hundred
hides of a bright pink, because that’s what we would call a “fashion
color.” It’s not one of the classic neutrals. You’re going to have more limited color options
with this. It’s super durable and it can be really handsome
in the right settings,
but it will have some limitations. It also cannot be carved or tooled or stamped
in the same way that a vegetable tanned leather can. On a lot of my notebooks you can get
initials stamped in it or things like that added to it,
that’s not going to be an option on anything made from an
oil tanned leather, just because of the way the finish is made the leather won’t take
those kind of markings anymore. Another term that you will probably hear–
and this is related to the oil tanned leathers–
is “pull up.” This is very similar to the oil tanned
except that it’s a finish that allows you, when you pull on it, the texture and the color
lightens a little bit. And then it goes right back to the way it
was. You might see this maybe on a couch or some
upholstery or a tote bag. This finish is something you might see. If you see something called pull up, that’s
what it’s referring to, that there will be some slight
color and texture changes when the leather is pulled
on like that. In other characteristics, it’s pretty much
the same as oil tanned. It’s dyed all the way through, and has the
same limitations in terms of color choices and the ability
to stamp and all that because it won’t accept dye or
stamping after the fact. It’s going to be the color that it came
from the tannery. Another kind of finish that you will see sometimes
is called a milled finish. Milled leather. This is a hide that probably started out looking
something like this, just the way it came off the cow,
nice and smooth. And then it was tumbled in basically what
is more or less an industrial laundry dryer, without any heat,
but just a giant tumbler. It takes all those previously stiff skin fibers
there and breaks them up at the surface. It’s still really durable, it’s really tough,
it’s not going to rip or anything, it doesn’t hurt it that way. But it does create this pebbly texture on
top because it’s broken those fibers down a little bit and
it makes it very soft. You would see this for purses or sometimes
upholstery, something that you want to have some give
to it. It has a really luxurious feeling suede sort
of back to it. The thing is that it becomes so floppy that
you really, you wouldn’t want to make a book out of this. Unless, you’re doing something with pockets
or you’re doing multiple layers that will build
up a level of stiffness that will give it some structure. On its own, it’s just, it’s really soft. It feels really delightful and kind of mushy
in your hands, it’s really soft, but not suitable for turning
into something that you maybe want to stand on its own on
a bookshelf. So just keep that in mind; if you see this
texture, that’s how it got it: it got it by being tumbled around
and those fibers at the top broken down a little bit so that
it has give to it. Something else that you will want to think
about is the thickness of the leather. I’m going to do a separate video on this because
I’m introducing a new weight of leather. This is an undyed notebook, Field Notes size,
and you can see that it has darkened a little bit–
this is the original color– this has darkened simply from light exposure,
just being in my workshop, and also from being conditioned
several times. I’ve had this one kind of as a demonstration
notebook for a little while so you can see it’s already
got a little bit of patina on it. It’s changed a lot from when it was this color
to start out with. Leather is measured in ounces. It’s how heavy a given dimension of leather
is. This is what I typically use, it’s called
a 6 oz leather so it would weigh 6 to 7 oz usually,
and you can see how thick it is. This gives you a nice sturdy book-like cover. You can see that it has softened up a bit
even softer than the original leather started out. See how this has a lot of spring back. Just because it’s been handled a lot, and
it’s been conditioned several times, it is much softer. That’s a characteristic of most leather:
the more it’s handled, the more it’s conditioned, the floppier
and softer it’s going to be. This is the 6 oz, and I’m also introducing
a 4-5 oz leather. This is from a new batch,
that’s why the color is lighter here. You can hold them side by side and you’ll
see the difference in the thickness there. Again this is where you might want to consider
if you’re wanting different sizes, you might want to
choose a thickness of leather based on the size of
notebook that you’re getting. The thinner that it is, as we demonstrated
earlier, the floppier it’s going to be, the more bend
it will have available to you so you can kind of move it
all around in a way that you can’t necessarily on a thicker,
smaller piece of leather. Those are some things to be aware of:
the different kinds of leather, vegetable tanned versus
oil tanned, the color options, surface dyed vs.drum dyed, smooth vs. milled, 6-7 oz compared to 4-5 oz. There’s a lot of options there that hopefully
this gives you the tools you need to make an educated decision
so that when you work with a maker to create something
custom for you, you get what you’re expecting and you
know what they’re talking about. Sometimes we use vocabulary, maybe we talk
about a “6 oz pull up leather,” well that might not
mean anything to anybody! Now you know what those terms mean and you
can make an educated decision about what you want to
buy and the kind of notebook or leather item that
you want to carry on a regular basis to meet your needs. If you’ve got questions, let me know. Mention them in the comments or send me an
email and I will be happy to work out an answer
for you. I’ll do my best to keep educating everybody
on the world of leather so let me know how I can
help. Thanks so much for watching. Bye bye.

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